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A family achievement

Fathers usually watch their daughters graduate from high school in a crowd of proud parents.

Joe Pustizzi saw his daughter graduate last week, but he was standing right next to her, about to receive his diploma, as well.

Pustizzi, 50, of Penn Valley and daughter Dawn Hammock, 26, of Grass Valley both received their GED diplomas from the Nevada Joint Union High School District Adult Education program in a ceremony June 1.



“The same day I got my GED diploma, I got my AARP card in the mail,” Pustizzi said.

It was his impending retirement and aging body that motivated him to attend GED classes last fall.




“I wasn’t getting anywhere,” Pustizzi said. “I do outside maintenance work, landscaping, and it was getting tougher and tougher on the old body. …There’s no retirement benefits, and it scared me. I knew I had to do something.”

Pustizzi had left school during a troubled childhood.

“I never gave a lot of importance to school,” he said. “I never looked at the future. At 19 I had a girlfriend, then a kid, and then it was all about work.

“It took me a long time to figure out schooling was very important. My body told me it was.”

Hammock learned of her father’s plan and decided to enroll herself. She had left school at 17 to get married and then had three children. She and husband, Vincent Hammock, struggled and decided education for nursing careers was a way out.

So Hammock and her father began taking GED classes.

“We helped each other out,” Hammock said. “We were both so worried because we both had troubles with math. We pushed each other.”

“It was healthy competition,” Pustizzi said. “We made sure we stood by each other during graduation. At least she didn’t wait as long as I did.”

Both encourage others who lack high school degrees to go back and get a GED diploma.

“It’s easy to delay, but you’re cheating yourself,” Pustizzi said. “If you drop out of school, the joke’s on you.”

“Now I can tell my kids I graduated,” Hammock said.

Both are headed for Sierra College, where Hammock will be in the nursing program. Pustizzi is not sure of his next course of study, but there will be one.

“I got this far, I don’t want to stop now,” he said.

The high school district’s Adult Education Secretary Joni Ostrom said the father-daughter graduation is just one of many great stories she sees every year.

“That’s what’s neat about this job,” she said.

People “from 18 to their 70s” who dropped out of high school go through the program, Ostrom said. Most of them originally left school because of financial hardship within the family.

“Intelligence has nothing to do with it,” she said, and GED students range widely in abilities, wealth and community status.

Students are pretested for deficiencies and then take what courses they need, Ostrom said. When they are ready for one of the five subject-area tests, the teacher lets them know.

“We have a 90 percent passing rate,” Ostrom said. “We don’t want to set the students up for another failure in their life.”

Facts about the GED

– “GED” stands for General Educational Development. It shows employers that a job applicant has attained basic high school knowledge.

– The program has five components with tests to pass in each: math, science, social studies, reading and writing.

– The classes are geared toward passing the tests and are done on a drop-in basis. Regular attendance is encouraged but not required.

– To enroll, call Joni Ostrom at 272-2643, ext. 345, or visit her at the Nevada Joint Union High School District Adult Education office at 140 Park Ave. in Grass Valley.


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